While Dr. Stuart Meloy was working on a new device to treat chronic pain, he was surprised to discover it could also bring pleasure to his female patients.
While Meloy, an anesthesiologist and pain specialist in Winston-Salem, was putting an electrode into the spine of a female patient with chronic back pain, the woman reported a decrease in her pain and a delightful, but very unexpected, side effect.
"When we turned on the power in this case, she let out a moan and began hyperventilating," Meloy said on ABC News' Good Morning America. "Of course we cut the power and I looked around the drapes and asked her what was going on. Once she caught her breath, she said 'you're gonna have to teach my husband how to do that!' "
Meloy soon realized he may have discovered a device that could help thousands of women who have trouble achieving orgasm.
"The device is the use of a pre-existing device called a spinal cord stimulator," he said. "Instead of treating chronic pain with the stimulator, we're treating orgasmic dysfunction," Meloy said.
In a surgical procedure done in his office, Meloy implants the electrodes from this device into the back of the patient, at the bottom part of the spinal cord. When the electrodes are stimulated with a remote control, the brain interprets the signal as an orgasm, he said. The device is about the size of a pacemaker and can be turned on and off with a handheld remote control.
Meloy conducted a study of 11 women that he has submitted for publication to the Journal of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.
"Six of them had never had an orgasm before," Meloy said. "Five of them had and then lost the ability. The results were promising in my mind. We were able to stimulate 91 percent of the women, 10 out of 11."
A 48-year-old woman who participated in the study told Good Morning America she lost her ability to achieve orgasm when menopause hit. But she says the device, dubbed the orgasmatron, allowed her to experience extreme pleasure once again.
"Once we found the controls, what caused the stimulation to be greater … more pleasurable, that's when I saw the results. I did have orgasm, and there were a couple of times that I had multiple orgasms because of the stimulator," said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.
She said it was difficult to part with the orgasmatron when the study ended.
"When I gave it back, I came in the office and Dr. Meloy took the electrodes out of, you know, out of the back and it was like I was losing my best friend. It was very hard to give it back. It worked so well for me," she said.
Urologist Dr. Jennifer Berman, the co-director of the Female Sexual Medicine Center at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, says women who have exhausted every other option for treating sexual dysfunction might look to the orgasmatron.
"It is direct, sacral nerve restimulation, and the device is FDA-approved for bladder problems and pain," Berman said. "Dr. Meloy, anecdotally found in that, what we have found, and people that use the device, is they're recording enhanced sensation, sexual sensation."
Laura Berman, a clinical assistant professor of OB/GYN and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, says the discovery of the orgasmatron and other medical tools aimed at helping women who can no longer achieve an orgasm encourage women to discuss their sexual issues more.
"The most important thing is to bring it up and to address it and to know that there is help available," Berman said. "These devices are extremes for women when other options haven't worked. But … you can go to your doctor, you can get your hormone levels checked. You can even use a sexual aid or device from your local erotica shop."
If approved for this use, the orgasmatron device and implantation could cost up to $17,000, but Meloy says he believes some women would be happy to pay that amount to have the orgasmatron permanently embedded in their lower backs. He says the device could be implanted on an outpatient basis.